Catalan playwright Jordi Galcerán casts a cynical, bemused eye on the cutthroat world of international big business in his darkly comedic The Grönholm Method, the most exciting play to make the transatlantic crossing in an English translation since Yasmina Reza’s God Of Carnage stunned Broadway in 2009.

 This time it’s L.A. that trumps New York in getting The Grönholm Method’s U.S. Premiere, giving Angelinos the first American look at Galcerán’s fiendishly funny, ceaselessly surprising one-act in a Broadway-class production at The Falcon Theatre.

Carl, Frank, Rick, and Melanie are four job applicants vying for a single prime post at Fortune 500 biggie Burnham & Burnham, guinea pigs pitted one against the other in a series of devilishly clever mind games (aka the Grönholm method) from which there will be but a single survivor.

One by one, the competitors make their entrances into the corporation’s ultramodern, sleekly antiseptic, chrome-and-white waiting room, blissfully unaware of what the higher-ups at B&B have in store for them.

 Dressed as if for an Armani fashion shoot, Jonathan Cake’s Frank is the sharkiest, snarkiest of the foursome, and a man who has clearly learned how to put his James Bond looks to good advantage. Stephen Spinella’s nerdy, high-strung Rick is the kind of guy whose manner can go from ingratiating to grating once you’ve spent a few minutes with him. Graham Hamilton’s Carl is a clean-cut all-American Homecoming King type—think Robert Redford circa 1965, or at least so it seems. Lesli Margherita’s Melanie sports a big-shouldered designer business suit and no-nonsense chignon suggesting a woman who has figured out just how to compete in the dog-eat-dog world of international big business.

Following a bit of getting-to-know-you chitchat peppered with a number of “What are we all doing here?” questions, the group receive their first set of written instructions, delivered anonymously from a cabinet that suddenly whooshes open, an otherworldly glow emanating from within. One of the four, the first note informs them, is not in fact a job applicant, but rather a human resources plant whose identity they have just ten minutes to determine.

 And this is merely the first of a series of challenges and “party games” the foursome will be assigned over the course of The Grönholm Method’s intermissionless, real-time ninety minutes, filled with at least as many surprise twists as Ira Levin’s Deathtrap, all the way up to its mind-bending very last line of dialog.

If this review ends up somewhat shorter on synopsis than many on this site, it’s simply that to reveal anything more about The Grönholm Method would be to spoil the many delicious surprises it has in store for those lucky enough to catch its American premiere.

Anne García-Romero and Mark St. Germain’s English translation sounds so authentically American, you’d never guess that Jordi Galcerán’s original was written in Catalan, or that it inspired a 2005 Spanish film adaptation entitled El Método (which upped the number of competitors to seven).

It’s hard to imagine a better cast than the one now on stage at the Falcon, performances which director BT McNicholl has fine-tuned to razor-sharp perfection.

 Cake’s Frank is a dashing, designer-suited snake, and so authentically American that only his British pronunciation of “anything” as “enna-thing” reveals his UK origins. Spinella gives Rick a rainbow of quirks and fidgets as only the two-time Tony winner (for Angels In America) can. Hamilton (a Scenie winner for his performance in Becky Shaw at South Coast Rep) proves his versatility in here in ways I cannot even hint at. Suffice it to say, he’s once again terrific. Finally there is the one-and-only Margherita, last year’s Scenie-winning Musical Theater Star Of The Year, having a field day sinking her teeth into a rare non-singing role, and doing deep, dazzling work without once having to turn songstress or kick up her dancing heels. And the above descriptions can only hint at the many levels and colors Galcerán’s crafty script allows these four gifted performers to display.

 Scenic designer Brian Webb’s waiting room set is as impressive as any I’ve seen at the Falcon, and Jennifer Schriever’s lighting makes it look even spiffier. Costume designer Ann Closs-Farley has given each character his or her own just-right look. Cricket S. Myers’ sound design sets the mood, ups the suspense, and generates considerable delight whenever that cabinet door whooshes open to reveal another game or challenge.

The Grönholm Method is presented by Baby Tiger Productions, Daniel Wallace and Trish Whitehurst in association with Falcon Theatre. Casting is by Stuart Howard and Paul Hardt. Sue Karutz is stage manager.

Angelinos are indeed fortunate to have The Grönholm Method making its first American appearance at the Falcon with a cast every bit the equal of one you’d expect to see on the Great White Way—and you don’t have to undergo a battery of Grönholm Method challenges to see it. Just be sure to reserve your seats posthaste because, like the play’s four competitors, L.A. theatergoers who snooze may find themselves having to lie, cheat, and steal their way into the Falcon. Talk about putting The Grönholm Method into practice!

Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank.

–Steven Stanley
August 21, 2012
Photos: Chelsea Sutton

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